Tinnitus: Changing Perception

Mindfulness is a way of approaching each moment by focusing one’s attention and purposefully living in the moment as a way of relieving physical and emotional pain. This is not a new idea. Rather, mindfulness is a 2,500 year-old practice that is experiencing a resurgence, in part because of recent scientific findings that substantiate its myriad healing benefits.

EarPuzzleA growing body of research has shown the efficacy of mindfulness-based approaches in managing chronic pain, sleep disturbances, depression, anxiety, multiple sclerosis, cancer, and long list of other health maladies. My own research suggests that mindfulness can also be particularly useful in managing tinnitus.

I first learned about mindfulness as a pain management tool when I was a clinical psychologist and researcher at the University of California, San Francisco. After seeing the positive impact it had with other conditions, I wanted to study the impact of mindfulness therapy in changing a person’s relationship with bothersome tinnitus. With several colleagues, I organized a pilot study in which eight tinnitus patients received eight weeks of Mindfulness Based Tinnitus Street Reduction (MBTSR).

The results of this study were stunning. We found that mindfulness therapy greatly reduces the perceived burden and handicap of tinnitus. What’s more, the benefits were enduring, with improvement lasting through the end of the 12-month study window. In addition to a decrease in tinnitus burden, depression and anxiety scores went down and quality of life scores went up after program completion.

images-3So what is mindfulness and how does it improve a person’s perception of tinnitus? Mindfulness is a way of approaching each and every moment that arises with a “special” kind of awareness. By “special” I mean not just an ordinary awareness but rather full consciousness of immediate experience, approached with curiosity, acceptance, openness to whatever arises, and a gentle self-compassion toward one’s self.

Tinnitus patients often try to avoid awareness as a way to ignore the ringing in their ears. This works for some, but it also closes people off from living a full, unencumbered life. Mindfulness teaches that we can benefit by fully embracing our experience with tinnitus. By leaning into our tinnitus, we can break through to a better, fuller experience. Mindfulness also helps relieve the anger and apathy that so many tinnitus patients experience.

MBTSR: The Online Decision

How a tinnitus online course reaches those who might not benefit from in-person tinnitus group care.

EarPuzzleCreated in 2009, the MBTSR curriculum was initially designed as a group, in-person skill building course. Each class brought people with tinnitus in the Bay Area community together for 2 hours per week over an 8-week period to practice the skills needed to support change in a person’s relationship to living with tinnitus. The research results were astounding, as I literally watched the healing transformation in participants each week.

So when I began designing the MBTSR online course, I was worried that an online course—where the weekly MBTSR classes were practiced separately, in the privacy of each person’s home — would not be attractive to people. But as the weeks passed by and people with tinnitus began taking the class, I began hearing encouraging statements from participants. For example:

“The MindfulTinnitusRelief.com course is warm and inviting and gives the tinnitus patient an honest opportunity, without false hope, to feel better. I also like the way the modality appears to encompass CBT and Buddhism with its mindfulness main principles.”

That’s when I began to realize that there are many people who — due to geographical distance, demanding work schedules, health issues, and discomfort participating in a live group setting — would now have easy and comfortable access to a novel new treatment for tinnitus.

Why Go Online: Pragmatic Benefits

•  Less expensive per participant
•  Reusable components
•  Easier recruitment
•  Available to more people with less burden
•  Serious dissemination

Why Go Online: Effectiveness

•  Facilitates daily learning and practice
•  More effective monitoring
•  Easier faster participant contact
•  Simplified record keeping
•  Reach a different audience

Why Go Online: Challenges

•  Less personalization
•  Less personal contact / sense of commitment
•  Only works for skills interventions
•  Not, e.g., acupuncture

How Can You Protect Your Ears?

The best way to protect your ears is to avoid loud sounds. But this is not always easy to do. So the next best way to protect your ears is to use earplugs. Earplugs are easy to find and range in quality. Standard earplugs can be found in most pharmacies. They can also be purchased at an audiologist’s or hearing professional’s office. The materials that are used to make ear plugs can vary. Some are disposable and made of foam, others are made of plastic and can be re-used.